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Animal sedative linked to three overdose deaths in Michigan

Stacks upon stacks of wrapped black packages sit on a manila table in an unknown room. Five additional smaller bags sit in front of the pile, these containing light blue circular pills. The wall directly behind the stack of illicit drugs is a faded green, with the carpet being a simple gray color.
Drug Enforcement Administration
A photo from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Los Angeles Field Division, shows some of the fake pills containing fentanyl seized in 2022 at a home in Inglewood, Calif. Medetomidine is often used in combination with opioids such as fentanyl.

The deaths occurred in Berrien, Ingham and Wayne counties. That’s according to data cited by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

A veterinary drug called medetomidine is turning up in Michigan's street drug supply.

Medetomidine has some things in common with xylazine, another animal sedative linked to deaths in Southwest Michigan. But health officials say medetomidine is more potent, and therefore, deadlier.

Guy Miller is with the health department in Berrien County.

“You might not know what is in that illicit drug supply, and it could contain these drugs, not to fearmonger, not to scare people, but it's an unfortunate reality," he said.

The opioid-overdose reversal drug naloxone, often called by the brand name Narcan, will not treat a medetomidine or xylazine overdose. But Miller said you should still give them in the case of an overdose.

“Even though the naloxone won’t work directly on the medetomidine, it would work on an opioid that medetomidine could have been mixed with."

Michael Symonds reports for WMUK through the Report for America national service program.

Report for America national service program corps member Michael Symonds joined WMUK’s staff in 2023. He covers the “rural meets metro” beat, reporting stories that link seemingly disparate parts of Southwest Michigan.